How a 0 million bridge crossed Africa’s most unusual border

How a $260 million bridge crossed Africa’s most unusual border

Today the pontoons are on land, mercifully superfluous. You might spot them crossing the 923-meter (3,028-foot) Kazungula Bridge, a $260 million project co-funded and jointly operated by Botswana and Zambia that has transformed this South African trade artery in just one year of operation The bridge was designed to expedite travel along the Southern African Development Community (SADC) North-South Corridor, a route that has historically been fraught with costly border delays.

Copper from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Tanzania on its way south before being shipped to China. Food from South Africa on trips north. Mining equipment from Tanzania en route to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia. All pass through Kazungula, says Kaiko Salim Wamunyima, general secretary of the SADC Truck Drivers Association of Zambia.

The bridge opened in May 2021 but was over a decade in the making, explains Kazungula project engineer Isaac Chifunda.

Geopolitics played a large role in the design of the bridge. Kazungula spans an area of ​​Africa known as the “Quadripoint,” says Chifunda. Sixty-five kilometers (40 miles) upstream from Victoria Falls, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe converge at the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers. The borders of the countries extend into the rivers, so the Kazungula Bridge was shaped with a pronounced curve to meander through the landscape and avoid Zimbabwean waters, says Chifunda.

“Africa was heavily represented in this project,” says Chifunda. Although the construction was overseen by South Korean firm Daewoo E&C, the team was multinational, he says, and raw materials like cement, steel and aggregates came from across southern Africa.

A significant investment for Zambia and Botswana, the bridge is packed with technology to ensure its long-term future.

Chifunda explains that a structural condition monitoring system “gives signals as to which part of the bridge needs maintenance. And we also have a weather station – we measure wind speed, precipitation, we even measure the excitation, which is the movement of the (suspension) cables.

“If there is a danger, the station sends a signal by phone or email so that the two member states can take care of maintenance work.”

new customs

Driver Memory Lambie poses with her truck.  "The bridge is 100% perfect for us"  She says.

There are one-stop customs offices at both ends of the bridge, so cross-border cargo only needs to be processed by one country. Now that there is a higher daily volume of traffic, speed is required.

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Chikumbi Chama, deputy commissioner at Zambia’s Revenue Agency, says the bridge has allowed for longer hours of operation, with the border open between 6am and 10pm. The old border facility received up to 80 trucks a day, but now customs receives over 280, she says, and “the numbers are increasing every day.” But despite the increased volume of traffic, “the transit time has been reduced to half a day”.

Truck driver Memory Lambie crosses the region with a sign that reads “BOSS LADY” in her windshield. Nevertheless, she remembers the “great challenge” of crossing the Zambezi before the bridge; 10 km long queues at the border and up to two weeks waiting time to enter Zambia. “Now it’s easy,” Lambie says, adding that the faster rides mean she can spend more time with her kids.

Keep the wheels turning

A year after opening, the bridge has yet to realize its full potential as the railway line running through its middle is not yet operational.

The rail link is intended for both passengers and freight, says project engineer Chifunda, but the crossings will not serve cars and trucks at the same time. “The bridge is designed in such a way that the train and vehicles cannot use the bridge at the same time,” he explains. Vehicle traffic is cleared, then a train crosses, then vehicle traffic can resume.

An old pontoon lies on the banks of the Zambezi.  Before the bridge, small ferries were the main means of crossing the river.

Once connected to the existing rail infrastructure in Botswana and Zambia, an even greater volume of cargo will be able to travel across the bridge and across southern Africa, Chama says.

Google Equiano: Internet giant is focusing heavily on Africa with its latest mega projectThis will likely reduce freight transportation costs. A 2015 African Development Bank report found that poor rail connections in landlocked countries (such as Botswana and Zambia) are limiting their economic potential. Diesel-powered rail freight can be up to 75% cheaper than road freight, yet the overwhelming majority of freight in the SADC is still handled by road.

“In the landscape of the future, I see rail freight becoming a prominent feature,” adds Chama. However, a timeline for the bridge to be fully connected is unclear as talks between Botswana and Zambia are ongoing, Chifunda says.

Meanwhile, trucks continue to cross the Zambezi River with greater haste and ease than ever before. It has already proven to be a revelation for drivers like Lambie. “The bridge is 100% perfect for us,” she says.